Where the spectator goes blind…

Programme text for ‘Blind’, choreography of Alexander Baervoets

Programme note 29 Apr 2003English

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Contextual note
This program text was commissioned by Kunst/Werk, and written after a series of observations of the working process in the studio during March 2003. It was first published on the occasion of the première in L’Agora de la Danse in Montréal on 29 April 2003.

In his successive works, the choreographer Alexander Baervoets has developed alternative strategies for composition, based on the refusal to accept that choreography is an art form intended to pin down movement. In addition to a removal of the theatre machine, the purpose of this study was also the withdrawal of the choreographer as author, in order to create a minimal setting in which movement can happen. This improvisation project, called Blind, with the Canadian dancers Andrew de Lotbinière Harwood and Lin Snelling, marks a provisional end point and delves into the depths where choreography comes up against several dead ends.

The starting point for both the working process and the performance is as simple as it is radical: in a marked-out space with just a few objects, the three dancers, blindfolded, improvise for a slightly less than an hour to a soundscape created on the spot. They have never danced together with their eyes open, nor did Baervoets give any extra indications to adjust the dynamics or the quality of the movement: the understanding between the blind dancers on the stage grew in the course of their work.

The consequences of the blindfold were quite fundamental for the dancers: their notion of space and time was turned upside down. Distance and overview are non-existent, the space is stripped of its clear hierarchy; but it does not appear so much democratic as extremely chaotic. Even a continuous exploration and mapping of the environment by groping, wading through, running back and forth, introduces hardly any structure: without sight, the dancers cannot build up any memory of the space, and what’s more the space is constantly changing because the objects can be moved. Chance and entropy rule on the dance floor.

It is true that the dancers develop strategies to deal with this situation, even though it is based on the awareness that composition is impossible. In fact, Blind goes beyond any form of intentional thought, precisely because it leads nowhere. Despite using improvisational strategies such as repetition, the dancers have no control over the result of their actions, and there is a perpetual rift between their meticulously constructed internal world and their surroundings. Only in the chance encounter or collision with another dancer or an object do the two coincide and physical reality makes itself felt – it is comparable to a daydreamer who walks into a glass door. Alertness and attention increase and the use of the other senses becomes more intense. At the same time the dancers’ physical appearance changes too: it becomes more gentle. The movements are kept simple and ordinary, and behave in an ‘honest’ way towards the blindness in the choreography: what occurs is permeated with a non-visual logic.

Blind can scarcely still be called a performance or a product, but is more like a ‘situation’ in which the focus has been lost. Although they are able to speak to each other, there is hardly any communication between the dancers: after all, the three of them have different experiences of time and space. These experiences are, in their turn, isolated from the time and space experienced by the audience, in spite of a collective presence in the theatre. It suddenly strikes one how powerfully visual codes define the space shared by the performer and the audience in a theatre. In Blind, the audience watches from four sides, and is left with the question of how, while it is watching, it should conceptualise this strange affair.

Although each spectator is able to make up his own story, he also suffers from a certain blindness: his view, shaped by centuries of the visual culture, is shaken by its foundations, because the counterpart to his watching is no longer a structured image. Nevertheless, the dancers’ introversion requires a spectator or, more precisely, a ‘witness’: it is ultimately this that forms the basis for what goes on in their realm of the blind. The very presence of the witness itself gives meaning to their comings and goings. In the reverse direction, this minimal relationship that constitutes Blind probably underpins the position of the viewer too, but is there ultimately anything actually to be seen? Or has viewing itself also become transient along with the choreography?